For Seniors: How to Determine a Price Range When Buying a Computer

Buying a computer can be confusing, especially because of the amount of choices and the large price range. You can buy a computer for anywhere from $299 to $5,000 or more, depending on your budget and computing needs.

You can shop in a retail store for a computer or shop online using a friend’s computer. Consider researching different models and prices online and using that information to negotiate your purchase in the store if you prefer shopping at the mall. Be aware, however, that most retail stores have a small selection compared to all you can find online on a Web site such as Dell.com.

Some Web sites, such as Epinions.com, allow you to compare several models of computers side by side, and others, such as Nextag.com, allow you to compare prices on a particular model from multiple stores.

Here are some guidelines to help you find a computer at the price that’s right for you:

  • Determine how often you’ll use your computer. If you’ll be working on your computer eight hours a day running a home business, you’ll need a better quality computer to withstand the use. If you turn on the computer once or twice a week, you don’t have to buy the priciest model in the shop.

  • Consider the features that you need. Do you want (or have room for) a 20-inch monitor? Do you need the computer to run very fast and run several programs at once, or do you need to store tons of data? Understand what you need before you buy. Each feature or upgrade adds dollars to your computer’s price.

  • Shop wisely. If you walk from store to store or do your shopping online, you’ll find that the price for the same computer model can vary by hundreds of dollars at different stores. See whether your memberships in organizations such as AAA, AARP, or Costco make you eligible for better deals.

    Consider shipping costs if you buy online and keep in mind that many stores charge a restocking fee if you return a computer you aren’t happy with. Some stores offer only a short time period, such as 14 days, in which you can return a computer.

  • Buying used or refurbished is an option, though new computers have reached such a low price point that this may not save you much. In addition, technology gets out of date so quickly that you may be disappointed buying an older model.

    Consider going to a company that produces customized, non-name-brand computers at lower prices — perhaps even your local computer repair shop. You may be surprised at the bargains you can find (but make sure that you’re dealing with reputable people before buying).

  • Online auctions are a source of new or slightly used computers at a low price. However, be sure that you’re dealing with a reputable store or person by checking reviews others have posted about them or contacting the Better Business Bureau.

    Be careful not to pay by check (which gives a complete stranger your bank account number); instead use the auction site’s tools to have a third-party handle the money until the goods are delivered in the condition promised. Check the auction site for guidance on staying safe when buying auctioned goods.

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